UK expert reconstructs “missing” Beethoven movement which gets its first performance in more than 200 years.
- Lost Beethoven classic played for first time in 200 years (Telegraph, Sep. 29, 2011):
A movement from a Beethoven composition for a string quartet which was discarded by the composer and replaced by a new version has been reconstructed by a musical expert in Manchester.
The piece got its first ever public performance in more than 200 years, possibly ever, at Manchester University.
The lost piece of music was part of the String Quartet in G, Opus 18 Number 2, and Professor of Music at the university, Barry Cooper, painstakingly reconstructed the movement based on surviving detailed sketches for every one of its 74 bars.
He was unable to attend the public recital due to unexpected surgery, his work was presented by his colleague Professor of Music David Fanning.
Fanning said: “It might interest readers to know that at the seminar from which the video is taken, the audience – consisting of students, composers, musicologists and experienced chamber music-goers – found Professor Barry Cooper’s reconstruction entirely plausible. This, we agreed, was an impressive endorsement for his work. The project is in any case very different from his ‘Tenth Symphony’ reconstruction, which involved a good deal more conjecture.
“I myself might have pointed to a few bars that sounded a bit skeletal. But even here, I can think of passages in other Beethoven works (such as the ‘Harp’ Quartet) where the same effect is clearly calculated and effective. At worst, my impression would be explicable as a scholar’s erring on the side of caution.
“Equally, when the direct comparison was made, the more compact ‘standard version’ with its mercurial central section, totalling a little over five minutes as compared to the Cooper reconstruction’s nearly nine, was found to be both more ‘radical’ (according to a composer in the audience) and more effective within the context of the work as a whole (according to the Quatuor Danel).
“In sum, the reconstructed Beethoven movement is certainly beautiful in its own right, and knowing it surely tells us something important about him as a craftsman, as well as enriching our view of the work. But I stand by my comment in the video that what we have here is something analogous to the appendix to a play: a version of a scene that is convincing enough but supplanted by the revision.
“I write as Barry Cooper’s colleague, but without – so far as I’m aware – any guardedness or spin. Unfortunately Barry himself was indisposed for the seminar, and although I had access to his notes, I cannot pretend to have been speaking on his behalf or to do so now. Happily he’s making a quick recovery, and I fully expect him to add his own reactions at a future date.”
The existence of the sketches was established in 1977, but they have never been found. What is known is that the then aged 28 year old composer had delivered the manuscripts for three new quartets in October 1799.
The works – Op 18 Nos 1-3 – were sold to a Prince Lobkowitz for 200 florins.
But the following year Beethoven revised Nos 1 and 2, including a completely new slow movement for No 2 in which little of the original material remained and the rhythm was completely different.
The reconstruction cannot be absolutely accurate, but it’s believed to be as close as one can get when working only with sketches.
The slow movement was played by the Quatuor Danel String Quartet.
Beethoven cut down his original version by 3 minutes and replaced the original stormy and angry middle section with a calmer one.